Chronic venous insufficiency is a long term illness involving the veins in the lower limbs and can cause multiple effects and pathologies which have an effect on the length and quality of a person’s life.
First off, some basics: blood is pumped around the body by the heart and carried through vessels – veins and arteries. Arteries carry blood away from the heart and have thick muscular walls. Veins carry blood back to the heart and have thinner walls with valves to stop the blood from flowing backwards.
In venous insufficiency, the veins become weaker and valves don’t wowrk the same way they used to, allowing blood to pool in the limbs and extremities. This can be caused by a number of factors:
diet high in saturated fat and sugar
family history of varicose veins or a DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
Over time, veins gradually become damaged and incompetent. They can be seen on the surface as varicose veins – blue, twisted and bulging veins just under the skin. There are various treatments for varicose veins, including stripping, sclerotherapy, ablation and laser treatment.
Venous insufficiency also causes oedema in the legs, which is a fancy word for swelling. Because of the increased venous pressure, fluid can leak out of the vessels and into the tissues. The swelling is worse at the end of the day and when the legs are hanging down vertically. Elevating the feet wil improve the amount of blood getting back to the tissues and compression stockings can be used.
Since the walls of veins aren’t very muscular, they need help pumping the blood against gravity, back to the heart. Thats where the calf muscles come in. Working the muscles at the back of the leg helps the veins to work efficiently and prevent problems like oedema in the long term. One of the factors that makes venous insufficiency worse is sitting down for long periods of time. So if you have a very sedentary office job, get up and go for a walk every so often or point and flex your toes under the desk. Sitting down all day also increases your risk of developing a DVT, which is a blood clot in a vein. This condition can be fatal and the clot can travel around the body and interfere with the heart, lungs or brain.
Venous insufficiency can also result in discoloration of the skin and strange rashes. While the function of arteries is to bring the tissues fresh blood which contains oxygen and nutrients, the function of veins is to take away toxins and the byproducts of cellular metabolism. If the veins aren’t working properly, the toxins are left to build up in the skin and can cause brownish/red freckles, star shaped white marks and itchy rashes. This itchiness is caused venous eczema and scratching at this is one of the most common causes of a wound or ulcer developing. Overall, the legs feel heavy and tired most of the time and may get aches or cramps.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms in yourself or a friend, get them to see a doctor as soon as possible and ask for some education and treatment options.